An Atlanta-based foundation for the International University of Grand-Bassam (IUGB), an innovative institution in the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire, which was launched in 2007 with the support of Georgia State University, seeks board members interested in serving its mission to develop the necessary resources to make the university “a center of excellence” for higher education and to provide scholarships for deserving African students.
When francophone Côte d’Ivoire sought to reform its higher education system in the mid-1990s, Georgia State University stepped up to the challenge by joining with Ivorian educators in planning the development of a university where classes would be taught in English and modeled on American educational practices.
Such an innovative addition to a French-rooted educational system most probably would never have been possible if the country’s president at the time, Alassane Ouattara, hadn’t had an extensive background in U.S. educational institutions. After having completed his primary and secondary educations in West Africa, he received a bachelor of science degree in 1965 from Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia and a master’s and doctorate in economics in 1967 and 1972, respectively, from the University of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Ouattara went on to have a distinguished career at the International Monetary Fund as well as the Central Bank of Western Africa before entering politics in his home country.
This radical concept of launching an American-style university in Africa also most probably never would have emerged if Mr. Ouattara hadn’t at some point been introduced to Andrew Young, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, former mayor of Atlanta and U.S. congressman from Georgia.
Their bond was formally recognized when Mr. Ouattara, as the Côte d’Ivoire’s president in 2014, dispatched his ambassador in Washington to deliver a letter to Mr. Young announcing that he would be receiving the nation’s highest civilian honor at a ceremony to be held in October at the InterContinental Buckhead Hotel in Atlanta.
At the ceremonial event, Côte d’Ivoire’s then-prime minister, Daniel Kablan Duncan, commended Mr. Young for his service on behalf of the United States and then emphasized his role in the formation of the University of Grand-Bassam (IUGB), the American-style university that had been first envisioned 20 years earlier.
He then presented Mr. Young with the “Commandeur de L’Ordre” and announced the formal launch of the IUGB Foundation, which had been started two years earlier dedicated to the development of the necessary resources to achieve IUGB’s ambitious goals.
Mr. Young in his formal remarks reminisced about his admiration for Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who guided the country’s economic growth immediately following its independence from France when it emerged as the fastest growing economy in West Africa.
Mr. Houghouet-Boigny served as president for 33 years and was succeeded by Mr. Ouattara who had served as prime minister in the final years of his presidency. Following Mr. Houghouet-Boigny’s death in 1993, ethnic and religious rivalries broke out in civil war and continued sporadically into the early 21st century.
Once Mr. Ouattara firmly assumed the presidency, however, the IUGB began to take shape under its mission of providing “internationally recognized higher education through technology-enhanced English medium instruction in fields critical to regional development, international success and life-long learning.”
Today the university has 786 students from 22 countries and offers six bachelor’s degrees from its three schools: the School of Business and Social Sciences, the School of Science, Technology and Engineering and the University Preparatory Program. Starting out as a two-year program in 2015, IUGB offered its first bachelor’s degree to four graduates. As of 2017, 46 students have received their four year degrees.
Despite its early accomplishments, the university’s need for capital to provide scholarships for its students and to build out its vision, required the launching of its foundation, now based in the Hurt Building in downtown Atlanta as a 501©3 U.S. tax exempt non-profit dedicated to the university’s goals.
Since the beginning of this year it has been led by Amini Kajunju, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who served for 15 years as an entrepreneurial nonprofit leader, notably as the first African-born woman ever to serve as the President and CEO of the Africa-America Institute (AAI), the oldest nonprofit of its kind in the U.S. In 2013, Forbes magazine selected her as one of “20 Young Power Women in Africa under 45.”
Although probably only a coincidence, while she was at the Africa-America Institute, Ms. Kajunju honored Mr. Ouattara with its lifetime achievement award during an event in New York where the president called on the institute to launch a continent-wide effort encouraging African countries to pool together their resources and establish a fund to support the organization’s work in strengthening African universities and expanding skills training and professional development of African youth.
“The common thread in my career has been education and skills training,” Ms. Kajunju told Global Atlanta in her office in the Hurt Building. “So, running a foundation focused on a university makes a lot of sense for me.”
Her greatest challenges, she added, “include changing the narrative about Africa and helping people understand that it is a place for investments. When an individual or a corporation makes a charitable contribution to education, you are making an investment in the future. Africa has a bright future ahead. The world is becoming so small. We must make sure that there is prosperity everywhere.”
Ms. Kajunju grew up in Japan and Liberia as well as the DRC and the U.S. due to her father’s pursuit of an academic career. She holds a bachelor’s of arts degree in international relations with an emphasis on economic development from Brigham Young University and a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in finance and management from New York University.
She joined the IUGB Foundation from Africa Integras, where she served as director of strategic partnerships. New York-based Africa Integras invests in the development of education infrastructure, including academic facilities, student hostels and faculty housing at African universities.
She also told Global Atlanta that she has been inspired by training that she received at the King Baudouin Foundation in New York, which provides guidance to administrators of African universities in the development of imaginative programs.
As an example, she cited transfer programs enabling African students to study at U.S. institutions and for U.S. students to study in Africa. “With an American style curriculum, these transfers can be made quite easily,” she added. “We also should consider providing opportunities for faculty to experience such transfers.”
Her top priority of the moment, she added, is to raise funds to provide need-based scholarships and fellowships, learning technology and grants and stipends to IUGB students, faculty and staff. Future goals stretching out 10 years include establishing five distinct schools at the university for business, science and engineering, agricultural technology, mines and humanities and social sciences.
The university already has a well-established board of directors comprised of distinguished persons from international and local business, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and the Government of Côte d’Ivoire including Côte d’Ivoire’s vice president and former board chair, Mr. Duncan.
The foundation’s board is chaired by William E. Fitzgibbon II, the former dean of the College of Technology of the University of Houston and includes Sidney Harris, professor and dean emeritus at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State and Debra F. Cannon, director and associate professor of hospitality also at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business.
Andrew Young’s March 2017 visit to Côte d’Ivoire for the groundbreaking of the IUGB’s new campus was further evidence of the links that continue to bind IUGB and Georgia State.
He was joined by Mr. Duncan, who had traveled to Atlanta three years earlier to present Mr. Young with his government’s highest civilian honor. The new campus is to cover 126 acres developed to educational, administration, student-life and multi-sports and recreational facilities as well as green open space.
The International University of Grand-Bassam Foundation raises money for need-based scholarships, and to develop career, study-abroad and internship programs.
It also provides assistance to procure technology for faculty, the administration and students, and to develop strategic partnerships with corporations and universities, find research opportunities for faculty, enhance thought leadership, assist the university with the goal of US. accreditation and assist IUGB with its new campus construction.
Prospective board members should be willing to serve a three-year term to be eligible for re-appointment for one additional term. Selected board members are to have achieved leadership stature in business, government, philanthropy or the nonprofit sector.
Meanwhile the foundation seeks to sublease space in its offices in the Hurt Building. The space is approximately 200 square feet with access to a break-room and comes fully furnished with a dedicated phone line. It can seat four people comfortably. Rent price per month is $850, all inclusive. The space is available for immediate occupancy upon review of basic financials.
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